The UK's first outbreak of canine babesiosis has been confirmed after four dogs contracted the disease from ticks in the same area of Harlow, Essex and none had any history of foreign travel. One of the dogs has since died.
Babesiosis is an infection which is caused by a single celled parasite called babesia.
It infects the red blood cells and the body in turn attacks the red blood cells with dogs developing anaemia. Dogs can become so anaemic that they do not have enough red blood cells in the body and not enough to carry oxygen to the brain. The disease can be life threatening if dogs are not given a blood transfusion in time.
The infection is spread by ticks, which typically need to be attached to the dog for over 24 hours in order to transmit the disease.
Symptoms vary, but the main symptoms are: lethargy, weakness, pale gums, jaundice, red/brown urine and fever. Diagnosis is made by examining the blood under the microscope or using specialised genetic tests to detect the parasite’s presence.
As well as using anti-tick medication regularly, dog owners should remove ticks from their pets as soon as possible.
Humans can catch the disease, which is caught by bites from infected ticks. The dog strain of the disease caused by Babesia canis is not thought to present a risk to human health.
Other pet species such as cats are not thought to be at risk from this species of the babesia parasite.